Tuesday 10 January 2012

Pinning down those characters

Some argue that novels and short stories are all about character and that plot doesn’t matter all that much. I personally think that story is crucial – especially to the children, teens and young adults I write for. However, story only works properly if it comes out of character, and the stories are only convincing if the characters are believable. The story comes out of the tension between them and form a setting that acts upon them.
Writers really need to know their characters inside out, upside down and back to front. They must know the physical, the intellectual and emotional traits, what is important in this story, what their greatest ambition is and what they fear most. The writer needs to know it but doesn’t necessarily need to share all of it.  Magically, it often comes across anyway.
The characters must be true to themselves throughout the novel / story and they must grow – especially in a young adult novel. They must also be rounded – never completely evil nor completely good.              
This is what I’ve been looking at in my latest edit. Because of the way Potatoes in Spring is structured it was relatively easy to look at one character at a time. I was able to follow the Renate strand, the Hani strand, and then look at the individual girls’ letters, then Hanna Braun and Käthe Edler. I did have to read more generally for the more background characters.  And yes, they are important too.
Most of the growth happens in Renate and Hani, but the others all must move on too.
Have I succeeded in getting the characters right? I hope so. In fact, if I’m to be professional about this, I am duty-bound to do so. But can I see it clearly enough? Thank goodness for critique groups!
At least I like all of my characters. Even the dysfunctional SS officer who constantly snipes at Renate’s mind.
And so, onwards!             

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